Gaudete Sunday: "Qui sedes," the Gradual
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    For those of you who really want to cut your teeth on serious Gregorian melody, this coming Sunday's Gradual, Qui sedes, offers plenty to work on.

    Qui sedes, Domine, super Cherubim, excita potentiam tuam et veni. V. Qui regis Israel, intende: qui deducis velut ovem Joseph.

    (Thou, O Lord, that sittest upon the Cherubim, stir up thy might, and come. V. Give ear, O thou that rulest Israel: thou that leadest Joseph like a sheep.)

    The normally cheerful and effusive Dom Johner begins:
    Gradual-responsories in general present many difficulties, and this is especially true of today's. It does not at all develop the way we should expect.
    And yet therein lies all its glory. How can you not love a melody that takes up the idea of "sitting on" something and then makes the melody itself get up and sit on itself! That's what the first few words ("Qui sedes, Domine") do, musically speaking. "Domine" seems to have a different, higher, tonic than "Qui sedes," and it is altogether rendered on a higher plane than "Cherubim," which gets the lower note. Clever and beautiful at the same time.

    One might be tempted to be put off by the staggering, ensuing melismas, which range across different parts of the mode, up and down, in seemingly every melodic corner, in and out of the shade of major and minor, like alternating cloud and breaking sunshine. But my goodness, why be put off when there is so much to discover!

    The melismas of this chant express the infinity of God and His divine power. The extended run on "regis" for example seems to pervade every tetrachord.

    And everywhere, the sense of supplication is so strong.

    I'm amazed by this chant. What incredible singers the chant composers were!
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    I really enjoyed your anaysis of this difficult chant and of Introit Gaudete in another thread. It really helps me to understand those somehwat 'abstract' melodies and sing them more meaningfully. Do you have more of this kind of anaylsis or books for it? For beginning chanters who are a bit intimidated to sing difficult Propers, this is a great help. ( Someday I might be able to analyze after more experience of singing them.)
  • Pes
    Posts: 623
    Mia, there's an entire book by Dom Johner on the Musica Sacra homepage, Chants of the Vatican Gradual. Dom J was an extremely sensitive reader of chant, and I love reading what he has to say about each one. The only quibble I have with his text is that his discussions don't follow the chants sequentially, as they develop. Other than that, it's a stimulating read.
  • miacoyne
    Posts: 1,805
    This is excellent. Seriously, my chant singing will be in a different level.
    Thank you so much.
  • Pes, just was working on Sunday's gradual and found your comments from last year. You wrote: "What incredible singers the chant composers were!" Indeed! I was just reading in Hiley's book about the Offertory verses, and he compared the anonymous composers to Beethoven's string quartets--stretching an existing form beyond what anyone had expected it to be capable of.

    Now, back to that gradual....that's going to take some work.
  • mahrt
    Posts: 517
    Pes is quite right that there is a vivid symbolism in setting "super" to the highest notes of the piece. it is, however, more than that. That whole phrase fills out the octave of mode 7, G to g and cadences on G, with reiterations on the reciting note of that mode, d. One wonders, though, whether the high g is not intentionally out of mode, sounding almost too high. This wonder is confirmed by the second phrase "Excita potentiam tuam," which descends down to a low D several times in the course of the phrase. Thus, while the first phrase is in the authentic octave G-g, the second is in the plagal octave D-d, not even touching on the high d, but rather reiterating the mode-eight reciting note, c. The respond of the gradual thus poses two extremes, the high followed by the low. Moreover, the low range is as symbolic as the high. Johner asks whether that low range does not represent "the mysterious coming of God and His activity." I suggest that it is quite the opposite: the low note is reached upon the word "potentiam," a word that does not represent activity, but only the possibility for it; so it could represent God an not yet active, still dormant, but waiting to stir Himself up to come. From the point of view of the calendar, He has, after all, two more weeks. This theme recurs through Advent, the collect in the extraordinary form for the Mass of the Fourth Sunday includes the same sentence. So perhaps what is being depicted is the dormancy of God until He actually should come. No other mode-seven gradual poses such a dichotomy of ranges in so symbolic a way. (Only one other, Miserere mihi, Domine for the Thursday in the third week in Lent, uses that lower fourth, and this one simply stays in the lower range, representing the humility of the plea for mercy in the text, and does not make the striking juxtaposition of the two ranges in the respond that Qui sedes does.)

    The ambiguity of the juxtaposition of high and low ranges (is it mode seven or eight?) is only resolved with the beginning of the verse, "Qui regis Israel." Here, with the initial leap of a fifth upward, the text reassures the listener that God is indeed active, for the two action verbs, "regis" and "deducis" both receive long melismas, and their range confirms that the mode is indeed the authentic, mode seven; moreover, the high g, still remembered from "super" is now approached by step, so that it can be seen as a natural part of the mode. The final melisma of the verse does touch briefly upon the low D as well, but this is a formulaic part of mode-seven graduals, found in other such pieces as well. Thus, in retrospect, the piece is in the authentic mode, and the high note on "super" is just a significantly high note within the mode of the piece, but the low passage on "Excita" now appears to be the part of the piece that is exceptional; the most fundamental import of the piece is the urgent but hopeful Advent plea to the waiting Lord: Veni! Come!
  • rsven
    Posts: 43
    Dear Pes and Mahrt, please continue your discussions of chant for future Sundays. This is most helpful. Learning all of these chants each Sunday, I don't take enough time for analysis, and don't really have the expertise. So your comments are illuminating. Keep going! The most striking thing about Qui Sedes for me was the last three notes of "veni", do-la-sol, which seemed to set us up for the triumphant beginning of the verse, that mode VII standard "trumpet call". That configuration always thrills me. I can hardly wait for the introit of Christmas Day. I would love to read a regular discussion of each week's chants.